REVIEW: Harrogate International Sunday Series, Old Swan Hotel, Harrogate

Violinist Francesca Dego

Violinist Francesca Dego

The violinist Francesca Dego and pianist Francesca Leonardi provided an inspiring insight into two significant and heavyweight sonatas of the violin and piano repertoire by Beethoven and Respighi.

This was the latest in the Harrogate International Sunday Series at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate.

The inscription over Beethoven’s Kreutzer sonata reads “in stilo molto concertante”, with the implication that the performers are two equal and dynamic voices.

This was immediately evident in the performance of both ‘soloists’ throughout Beethoven’s monumental middle period work and their playing was indeed as one: it was marvellous to experience two performers so totally in tune with each other.

The chords and double-stops in the opening adagio present one of the most difficult and exposed beginnings of any composition for violin and were negotiated well, but perhaps could have had more power and dramatic intensity.

The long Theme and Variations full of elaborate details and interpretive possibilities was particularly enthralling. Here Dego demonstrated command of the myriad technical challenges as well as the application of expressive vibrato and telling contrast between sautillé and détaché.

This in turn was confidently complimented by the nimble and robust piano playing of Leonardi who was impressive in all 3 movements. The final movement carried all before it in its rush from minor to a concluding major, from drama to concluding triumph and light.

The Respighi Sonata is less known but is clearly a much-loved work of this duo. It is a large scale work which is on a par with his longer orchestral compositions and since it is a chamber piece, its very size gives it an added dimension.

The way Respighi has crafted the music means that, like the Kreuzer, it requires considerable virtuosity from both players and soloists of equal standing. The blend of rich melodies and late Brahmsian harmonies were sensitively and passionately projected particularly in the slow movement with its constantly fluctuating harmonies and searing intensity.

The recital ended with two bon bouches: Castelnuovo-Tedesco Figaro Variations from Rossini’s “Barber of Seville and the still more hair-raising Dance of the Goblins by Bazzini. Splendid!

The next concert features clarinettist Julian Bliss on February 19 at 11am.